Tim Compston, Features Editor at SecurityNewsDesk and SecurityMiddleEast.com, speaks to Philippe Huysman, Global Portfolio Manager Access Control, Siemens Building Technologies, about how access control has changed in recent years and what the future holds.
Access control is certainly one area of security that continues to be at the forefront of innovation. Speaking to Philippe Huysman, who has been involved with physical access control systems for the past 15 years, it becomes clear just how far access control has come in this timeframe. Huysman starts off by telling me that he has seen access control solutions evolve way beyond 'standalone' systems running on separate proprietary, mainly serial, communications: "Now they are integrated security management systems which are able to incorporate video, intrusion, perimeter protection and analytics, running on IT networks and infrastructures."
For Huysman the emergence of smart cards was one factor that helped to open the door to new opportunities: "It enabled the use of the card beyond access control. Cards that had previously carried data to allow access to the building are now being used for multiple applications. These can range from parking to the electronic cashless purchase of food, with the potential to enhance workplace security through the inclusion of authentication for accessing the IT network and applications, digital signature and email encryption, biometric data and printer access management.”
Huysman goes on to point out that, increasingly, standardised and certified interfaces are being established with ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software systems such as SAP and HR (Human Resources) systems, as well as facilities management: "Interfacing [access control] with HR or other identity data sources enables an automated process for identity management, including automatic assignment of access entitlements based on the individual’s role and responsibilities." In this case, Huysman reckons, that the operational cost savings, increased data consistency and security, that can be achieved is significant. However, despite the benefits outlined, he believes that this is an area which has yet to be fully exploited.
Another key catalyst for the growth of access control in recent years, Huysmen believes, has been the introduction of offline and wireless electronic door fittings: "This has allowed us to extend electronic access control to encompass low traffic or lower-level security access points, which in the past were not economically viable for online systems."
Touching on the subject of where biometrics sits in the wider access control equation, he says that it is important here to clearly differentiate between two distinct customer requirements. The first, he says, relates to heightened security: "There are customers with high-security requirements who are demanding biometrics to ensure the verification of the identity of individuals. Biometrics, in this instance, is mostly deployed as a second authentication factor in addition to the smart card."
Beyond this, Huysman explains that there are other access control customers who are simply looking to unlock the benefits of biometrics from a convenience perspective: "These customers want to adopt biometrics to increase efficiencies." Drilling down into the detail, he points out that by removing the need for any kind of physical card or key fob it is possible to eliminate associated lifecycle costs such as card issue and, lost or defective, card replacement: “Furthermore, some organisations select biometrics to reflect their brand values as it is perceived as more innovative or technologically advanced,” he concludes.
According to Huysman biometric technology has improved, significantly, in accuracy and reliability and has, generally, become more accessible and affordable. He stresses that it is vital to select a reliable partner with expertise and experience in deploying biometrics projects: "Guidance and training during the initial enrolment phase is fundamental for system performance. Sufficient time and discipline is required for this phase of the project."
With regards to privacy worries, and user acceptance, he admits that these are still limiting the growth opportunity for biometrics: "These concerns are understandable as identity theft is a growing problem. If a card is stolen, the card can be invalidated and a replacement issued, however if a fingerprint template is cloned and misused, the repercussions are much greater. It is therefore critically important to carefully select the right biometric methodology.” According to Huysman some biometrics are more difficult to collect and therefore less subject to exploitation than others, giving palm vein biometrics as a case in point: “Conversely, easily collectable biometrics such as facial recognition can have high user acceptance as our faces are already in the public eye," says Huysman.
Talking to Huysman about whether the wide scale take-up of smartphones is creating new opportunities for access control, he says that given the capabilities of smartphones - as high performance and location aware connected devices - their most obvious use is as a replacement for the access card: "Increased security can then be further achieved with the adoption of biometrics and location verification." Huysman does stress, however, for enterprise environments the corporate ID card is still very important when it comes to visual identification: "A combination of smartphones with a visual ID is likely to be with us for some time."
Returning to the value of linking in with other systems, Huysman is adamant that, moving forward, access control should be about integration not isolation: "Many organisations are considering their existing processes and systems and are looking to leverage further value. Security is part of that focus and access control and time and attendance systems are a central component in a move to a more integrated approach."
Ultimately, Huysman says that by drawing data from a number of different sources and subsystems - including building automation - it is possible to move towards a truly 'smart' environment. One important area driving this kind of integration, reckons Huysman, is energy efficiency with security systems, including access control, able to provide valuable information relating to the occupancy of a building.